Bilbao is one of the best places to welcome New Year in Spain with great traditions and rituals.
Christmas festivities start properly here on 21st December with el dia de Santo Tomas. This is a big winter fiesta throughout the Basque area, and is celebrated in the usual trend here in Bilbao with the population out in the town in force and lots of music, drinking and eating in the streets.
By now you would not be shocked to learn that a big theme of the day is food. The streets around the Casco Viejo are decorated with stalls – approximately 250 in all – forming a big Mercado rural – a farmer market – selling tasty food from the baserris in the countryside around Bilbao – cider, cheese, meat, cake, bread, vegetables, fruit and so on.
On Santo Tomas every person eats “talo Y xistorrra. This is a type of soft floury fatbread similar to a “tortilla” Mexican, but a bit larger. You take your bottle of sidra and talo y xistorra, find a space with your family and ‘hang out”. And then you hang out a quite more, maybe finding a bar and moving on to some beer or wine.
The tradition is to eat twelve white grapes at midnight, one for each. Each them before the 12 chimes are up if you want best luck in the next year.
Dia de los Reyes
This is the largest celebration of the season. Large parades, people dress up as the 3 kings. More presents. And no doubt lots of dancing, singing, drinking and eating on the streets.
At Christmas, the important meal takes place on Christmas celebration. We had an Italian-Anglo Christmas with Pietro Italian boss, his British wife, their kids and his Italian family sister, in a village only some miles outer Bilbao. You can begin with Polish poppy-seed cake and English minces pies at the nearly home of another English scientist.
The Arrival of Olentzero
Olentzero is far plus than a Basque edition of Father Christmas. Modern manifestations of Olentzero seem to represent a combining of the Basque and Christian traditions, but Olentzero roots are in the very old traditions of Basque mythology, which has plus in general with, say, the Celtic tales of pre-Christian UK than with Christian holy tradition.
In Bilbao, there is an Olentzero parade on 23rd December, to mark his arrival into Bilbao from the mountains. This is truly the Bilbaino alike of Pantomime, and only about every kid in the Bilbao comes into the middle of town to see it.